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How Much Water Is Too Much Water?

May 27, 2022

In order for our bodies to function properly, it's vital that we drink enough water. Water regulates our body temperature, protects our organs, delivers nutrients and oxygen to our cells and so much more. Former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady even made headlines when he touted that he drinks more than two gallons of water every day in his book "The TB12 Method". But is it possible to drink too much? Yes, but it's not common, said Christopher Barrett, clinical registered dietitian and nutritionist at Hartford HealthCare’s Bone & Joint Institute. "Water intoxication" can occur when an excessive amount of water is consumed over a short period of time. This increases the amount of water in the blood, which dilutes the blood’s electrolyte balance. The water then migrates inside the cells, which causes them to swell and can lead to a variety of symptoms, including coma and even death. Drinking too much water can also disrupt brain function, a condition known as hyponatremia, which dilutes the electrolyte balance in the blood and can lead to:

  • Altered mental status.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Headaches (progressive and severe).
  • Drowsiness.
  • Swelling of hands, feet or both.
  • Confusion.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Seizure.
  • Delirium.
Some groups of people are more at risk for over-hydration, including athletes who participate in marathons and other long sporting events who need to replace electrolytes and carbohydrates in addition to the overall fluids in their bodies. When people excessively sweat and hydrate with water alone, they are at risk for hyponatremia. Competitive athletes should work with sports dietitians to create a fueling plan to avoid hyponatremia. As far as how much water you should drink, there is no one size-fits-all said Barrett. Age, gender, lean muscle mass, physical activity level, type of exercise, environmental factors (humidity, temperature and altitude), and pregnancy are all factors which determine the appropriate amount of water to drink each day. People with certain health conditions - such as congestive heart failure, diarrhea and renal diseases - have different fluid needs. Healthy individuals without pre-existing health conditions typically get approximately 80 percent of water through fluids and 20 percent through food. Based on this, it is recommended that women consume about nine cups (72 fluid ounces) of fluid per day, and men about 12.5 cups (100 fluid ounces). This is a broad recommendation, and should be increased gradually and consumed over the course of a day. Drinking to thirst and checking urine color is a quick and easy way to monitor hydration status. When someone is hydrated, their urine color should be a pale yellow, similar to hay or straw, and when they are dehydrated, their urine will have an amber color similar to apple juice.